When it comes to examples of technological innovation, it's often Silicon Valley that's held up as an example, but in notes posted to presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's campaign website on Monday, it was Westminster that was held up as an example of the future.
In one of Clinton's "factsheets" that details her Initiative on Technology Innovation, a section explains that the candidate's plan is to use infrastructure investment to "favorably change the economics of private capital investment in existing or new broadband networks. This approach opens the door to upgrading networks, filling gaps in underserved areas, and new models of public-private partnerships, such as in Huntsville, Alabama and Westminster, Maryland."
That's an endorsement that Jason Stambaugh, a marketing consultant for the City of Westminster, said everyone can take some bipartisan pride in.
In February 2015, the city began an ambitious project to eventually connect every home and business in the city directly to an ultra-high-speed fiber optic network.
"Providing ultra-fast broadband and high-speed internet to folks is a huge economic development driver in this country. I don't care who the presidential candidate is, it's something they are all going to care about," Stambaugh said. "We're happy to be out in front of the pack on that and very delighted that presidential candidate Clinton gave us some props in the media."
On Tuesday evening, Stambaugh was in attendance at an open house at Ting, the internet service provider company that has partnered with the city to operate the fiber network as it grows — with a small pilot phase now complete, about 2,700 homes and businesses along the western side of the city and along Md. 31 will be connected with fiber over the course of the next 12 months.
"The city decided that we are not in the business of being an internet service provider, that's not what we do well; we do infrastructure really, really well," he said. "That's where the Ting partnership has been so crucial, they are the ones that are operating the network and ultimately selling services to our business owners and our residents."
Ting will be offering symmetrical gigabit internet service, which means download and upload speeds of 1 gigabyte of data per second, according to Valerie Giovagnoni, Ting's manager for Westminster. Monthly fees will range from $89 per month for residential service to $139 per month for businesses.
The project of wiring up the whole city will take three to four years if all goes well, according to City Councilman Robert Wack, who spearheaded the infrastructure plan. As far as each resident or property owner is concerned, he said, the project comes in two parts — running the fiber to each address, for which the owner must grant access, and connecting the fiber into the house to begin service, which is done by Ting once a service is purchased.
"An important thing to keep in mind for the city's residents is that the installation of the fiber is free — it's only if they choose to take the service from Ting that they would actually have to pay something," Wack said. "The more people we get to sign up for the fiber installation, the cheaper we can get it done because we can get some volume discounts from the construction company."
In order to have the option to sign up for Ting services, a property owner must have the fiber run to their property by the city, and in order to have the fiber run to their property, they must sign an access agreement.
Even as a representative of a for-profit company that ultimately wants to sell services to residents, Giovagnoni said she tells people all the time to fill out the access agreement and get the fiber laid even if they never plan to use Ting; the person they could eventually sell their house to might have a different opinion.
"Everyone should do that, because it's future-proofing your home," she said.
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